Category Archives: Film Festivals

The Seer 2

The Seer

by Robert W. Welkos

A Hollywood publicist and a psychic-to-the-stars have an unscripted close encounter. 2,203 words. Illustration by Thomas Warming.


We’re anchored off St. Barts on the top deck of a super-yacht belonging to a Reality TV producer. It’s a humid starry evening with a party atmosphere of clinking glasses and glib conversations. I’ve come at the invitation of my pal, director Reggie Morgan, to witness a Hollywood psychic deliver a palm reading to an up-and-coming actress who was delightful in that DiCaprio movie.

Olivia Wallace Grimes holds her palms up and listens as Susan Talmadge intones, “I can sense the aura surrounding you, and I now see your aura. Did you know that you have a spiritual host, my dear?”

Olivia suppresses a giggle as she nods faintly.

“Your spiritual host is named Martha,” Susan is saying. “Do you recognize her?”

“Martha? Martha?” Olivia thinks for a second and bites her lower lip. “You mean, Aunty?”

“Yes, your Aunty. And she is very worried about you. There is a person of great importance in your life who has recently betrayed you. A person whom you counted on. And they have lied to you.”

“It’s Hollywood. What can I say?” Olivia says glumly amid titters from the party crowd.

“What is it, Martha? What’s that you say? Martha says that Emma…”

Olivia straightens. “Did you say Emma? Are you talking about the role of Emma? The part I’m up for?”

Were up for, Martha tells me.” Susan removes her hands from Olivia’s outstretched palms and turns away as the actress begins to tremble with suppressed anger.

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Sundance 02

Sundown At Sundance
Part Two

by Duane Byrge

A film critic at the Sundance Film Festival finds himself the target of a payoff plot. 2,231 words. Part One. Illustrations by John Donald Carlucci.


“De-lish-a,” the sound came tripping off his tongue, à la Lo-li-ta.

L.A. film critic Ryan Cromwell wound his way around the fireplace at the Eating Establishment for Saturday breakfast. He was meeting his friend Delisha at one of his favorite restaurants on Park City’s Main Street. Delisha wrapped her two-iPhone-holding arms around Ryan. She looked him up-and-down. “Is that your Viking film-critic look?” she asked about his Norwegian ski sweater.

“I left my helmet with the horns back at the hotel,” he said. Then Ryan noticed he had buttoned his sweater wrong. When he undid the top connections, his hands shook. He gulped water and noticed his right fingers trembled on the glass. He put it down and placed his hands in his lap. He shifted in his seat.

“You seem edgy,” Delisha said. “Is everything okay?”

“This festival is going haywire for me already,” he said, looking around and lowering his voice. “My second suitcase with mainly my underwear, socks and shaving stuff is all gone.”

“Someone stole your underwear?”

“No, but they’re missing. When I opened the suitcase this morning, it was filled with stacks of $20 bills,” he said. “I was going to call the police, but I thought I’d better do it in person.”

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Sundance 01

Sundown At Sundance
Part One

by Duane Byrge

A noted film critic arrives for what he expects to be just another Sundance Film Festival. 2,544 words. Part Two. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.


“Are you going to Shoot Mom?”

Ryan pulled off his headset and glanced up from his airline seat. A guy in a blue Cubs cap hovered over him.

A stewardess came forward, looking alarmed.

Shoot Mom — are you going to the screening?” the Chicago baseball fan repeated.

“Sir, you’ll have to sit down,” the stewardess commanded. “The warning light is on.”

The guy retreated back down the aisle. Ryan Cromwell settled back into his seat. He turned to the woman next to him who’d been watching the incident unfold.

“Sorry about that. Occupational hazard,” he said.

“You must be in a dangerous profession,” she said. “Homeland Security?”

Ryan smiled: “No, more dangerous. I’m a film critic.”

He was one of Hollywood’s chief film critics, headed to Salt Lake City from L.A. for the Sundance Film Festival. His reviews of independent film could make or break the pictures as well as launch or end careers. They were especially important at an indie film festival like Sundance where the discovery of new talent was the paramount focus. Ryan’s film reviews at previous fests had helped catapult first-time filmmakers such as Gina Prince Bythewood (Love & Basketball), Kevin Smith (Clerks), Justin Lowe (Better Luck Tomorrow), Quentin Tarantino (Reservoir Dogs) and many other rookies. January was his favorite time of year because he was reviewing films that were not just vampire, zombie, special-effects and franchise movies that were critic-proof and, in Ryan’s view, brain resistant.

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Red Carpet 03a

On The Red Carpet In Cannes
Part Two

by Duane Byrge

The lead actress of the opening night picture at the Cannes Film Festival is murdered – and a Hollywood film critic is the prime suspect. Part One. 3,744 words. Illustrations by John Donald Carlucci.


The French National Police gendarmes hurried Ryan Cromwell through reception, which resembled a cheap hotel lobby, and down a narrow brown hallway. They propelled him into an interrogation room only slightly larger than a bread box and painted gas chamber green. A man in his mid-fifties, wearing a dull black suit befitting a homicide detective, studied a copy of the day’s Hollywood Times. The page was opened to Ryan Cromwell’s review of The Ice Princess. The cop looked directly at Ryan. Then looked down at the paper. Then back up at Ryan.

”We have some questions for you, Monsieur Cromwell,” the detective said in a monotone and perfect English.

”Please, tell me what’s going on?” Ryan’s voice cracked, and his mouth was dry. “Why was I dragged down here?”

“My name is Inspector Thiereaux. I wish to talk about your film critique. In your criticism of The Ice Princess film, you wrote, ‘The script is so bad that one hopes that the film’s signature blue scarf would be stuffed down Kristen Bjorge’s throat so we wouldn’t have to hear her utter another word of dialogue.’”

”What do you mean, ‘stuffed down her throat’? I never wrote that.”

“It is right here.” The policeman shoved the review across the table. Ryan grabbed it and scanned the opening paragraph. He had begun with a discussion about lead actress Kristen’s screen presence. None of that was there.

“These are not my words,” Ryan said.

“I do not understand.”

“Sometimes the editors cut or rewrite my reviews. This is appalling. Because it blatantly misrepresents my thoughts. I would never take such a vulgar and aggressive tone. It’s so Internet.”

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Red Carpet 02

On The Red Carpet In Cannes
Part One

by Duane Byrge

A Hollywood film critic pans the opening night picture at the Cannes Film Festival – and suddenly he’s in police custody. Part Two. 2,430 words. Illustrations by John Donald Carlucci.


The half moon was smudgy white but ripening nicely for its full appearance at the Cannes Film Festival. Like a diva, it would not make its entrance until the final Saturday which the organizers already were proclaiming an evening of perfect alignment when “La Lunar Festival” would ascend to its spot of high honor in the dark blue Mediterranean sky. At the moment, the moon was glowing so exquisitely above the sea that it could have been a special effects rendition.

For a brief second, Ryan Cromwell savored the spectacle. Because the moon, the sea, the breeze, and The Ice Princess party were all his. It was the hottest Cannes invite in years. A sexy publicist from DeSimio & Associates had offered Ryan $250 for his ticket and, when he declined, she had upped the ante with an X-rated proposition. Ryan said no because he had a bad case of “Cannes Disease,” a contagious desperation that you had to be doing something every minute, and if not, you were missing something somewhere. Because the one event you decided not to attend would be the highlight of the festival.

Ryan was the senior film critic for the Hollywood Times, the top trade paper for the movie industry. He stood just over 6 feet with wavy dark hair and a physique toned by daily afternoon runs at the UCLA track and regular Tae Kwon Do workouts at a dojo on Sunset. He dressed well, but erratically, and when he won special praise for his “costume design,” as he called it, he took it as an indication that he lacked style at other times. He had just turned 38, and this was his eleventh trip to Cannes. It still always overwhelmed him that he was at the celebrated film festival, where the likes of his movie idols had graced the Red Carpet. Despite his modesty, Ryan knew that he belonged; his reviews set the tone and held the future for many of the films that would debut here in competition. The world would be reading him.

Standing in line to get into the party, Ryan was tapped on the back. He turned to see Stan Peck, his least favorite journalist. Peck wore a Hawaiian shirt, large sun visor and blue metallic sunglasses.

“Where’s your cigarette holder, Hunter?” Ryan asked.

“Slightly funny,” Peck responded. “I hoped to talk with you about your scathing review of The Ice Princess. It’s already the talk of the festival. I loved your lead: ‘Big guns, big gadgets, big hair, big dud.’”

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jLe Jet Lag Part Four

Le Jet Lag
Part Four

by Peter Lefcourt

The Cannes Film Festival ends and with it the escapades of a film publicist, journalist and producer. See Part One and Part Two and Part Three. 3,614 words. Illustrations by Mark Fearing.


The next morning, American film publicist Erika Marks sat down with Crimea star Hanna Lee Hedson in the luxurious Carlton Hotel on La Croisette and said, choosing her words carefully, “Do you want the film to win the Palme d’Or?”

“Why else would I have shown up in this fucking country?”

“We may have a little obstacle. The French like low-budget art films and this is a budget-busting Hollywood movie. We’d like you to do a news conference today. This will be the last one, I promise. But you’re a fifteen-minute appearance at the Palais away from winning the Cannes Film Festival. With that, you can do any picture you want.”

This thought penetrated deeply into the soft tissue of actress Hanna Lee Hedson’s ego, the place where she lived most of the time. What Erika didn’t tell Hanna was that her film career probably would never recover from all these Crimea press conferences demonstrating her lack of compassion for minority groups. Or that the actress definitely would lose a large chunk of her gross-profit participation revenue when the movie tanked at the box office.

But neither Erika nor her PR boss Larry Moulds cared. They were still focused on ensuring Crimea didn’t win the most prestigious festival award. Or any Cannes award, for that matter. “The Armenians could picket the event. It’d be great pub,” Larry said to Erika an hour later.

“We don’t want overkill. These people get very excited. They could do something really stupid,” Erika reminded him.

“Like what?”

“I don’t know. Some crazy could take a shot at her.”

“So? Could you buy that type of ink?”

In spite of all her years in the business, Erika never ceased to be amazed at what people would do to promote a movie. Kill off the star? Why not? The movie was in the can, and they had all the loops they needed. So who needed Hanna?

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Le Jet Lag Part Three

Le Jet Lag
Part Three

by Peter Lefcourt

The further Cannes Film Festival adventures of a film publicist, journalist and producer. See Part One and Part Two and Part Four. 3,024 words. Illustration by Mark Fearing.


The Cannes Film Festival jury president, Matthieu Brioche, wasn’t used to getting turned down by women. And he certainly was not used to being left standing in a hotel hallway at two in the morning after an American publicist pushing a film in contention had given him her room number. That was not simply rejection — that was a disgrace. So when his phone rang and he heard the femme in question, Hollywood film publicist Erika Marks – slightly past her prime but enticing none the less, like a bottle of 1975 Chateau Margaux with a leaky cork — inviting him to breakfast, he told her that he had a screening to attend. Erika Marks was proving to be, if not devious, then clueless. He liked that piece of American slang. Though he thought the film with Alicia Silverstone was a turkey. He liked that word, too. He just wouldn’t eat one.

Erika Marks didn’t blame Matthieu Brioche for being pissed. She had given him every indication she was interested. And she hadn’t even been particularly subtle about it. But now that her express orders from her studio boss were to not sleep with the Frenchman, thank God she hadn’t made things worse by jury tampering. Instead, she was just guilty of cock teasing. A misdemeanor.

Outside her door, next to the complimentary copy of USA Today, someone had left that day’s Screen International. Grabbing it, she got back into bed with the trade paper, eager to read the expected hatchet job that film critic Harry Harrington had done on her studio’s picture Crimea. The piece turned out to be great press. It fostered a want-to-see in the reader, which was the name of the game. Her boss Larry Moulds back in Beverly Hills would go ballistic. God forbid, the review could even result in Crimea winning the Palme d’Or. Then they’d really be fucked since their marching orders within the last 24 hours were to kill the film’s Cannes chances.

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Bender in Cannes ART

Bender In Cannes

by Michael Elias

A screenwriter is frustrated at the Cannes Film Festival – until he stops caring. 3,160 words. Illustrations by John Donald Carlucci.


Bender arrived at the Cannes Film Festival well armed. He had his screenplay and an appointment with a Moroccan film financier who would also give him a place to stay. He was in good health and had plenty of money for food and drink. It was now in Bender’s hands to find a way to fuck it up.

His screenplay, which he liked to think of as homage to the French New Wave of Truffaut and Godard, was about Henry, a successful American commercial director in Paris. Henry’s wife, a beautiful model, leaves him. Disconsolate, Henry takes flute lessons in an attempt to get over her. He falls in love with his flute teacher while his wife falls back in love with him. Bender knew if he could get a bankable actor to play the lead, he could find other financiers. But it was a small film, he would be a first time director and actors were wary. Hence, the desirability of independent financing which Bender fucked up.

Where did this come from, Bender’s policy of walking out of waiting rooms? What was the purpose, what was the result? Pride? Was it because from his seat on the Ikea couch of the office suite Bender could see the Moroccan talking on the phone, and Bender knew he could see him and yet didn’t acknowledge his presence? Not a wave, not even a raised hand, no sorry, give me a minute. Bender was growing angrier with each current and past issue of Variety International, Paris-Match and World Cinema.

Was this any way to treat an artist? No. A screenwriter? Maybe. One who needed three million dollars to make a romantic comedy in Paris? Absolutely. Hence, Bender, a long-standing member in the church of passive aggression, said to himself, I will give this prick ten more minutes and then I will leave. Bender didn’t stop to consider that he wasn’t in a store where one could get five million Euros and, if he didn’t like the way he was being treated, he could go to another one. Was this repressed anger at his mother for her dizzy nature that left him stranded after school with forgotten promises and unwashed spoons? All this revealed in fist-clenching sessions on Dr. Gladstein’s leather couch in the converted garage in Westwood.

But the past that illuminates the present doesn’t change the past. Bender should have waited him out like a Russian peasant, cap twisted past recognition. Thank you, Patron, for seeing me. Of course I understand that you were on the phone with the emperors of Warner’s, the caliphs of CAA, the mullahs of the Morris office and the entertainment division of City National Bank. As you know, I am humbly asking permission to make a little film behind the hovel you so kindly let me inhabit. If your majesty would grant me five million rubles, I can do it. Of course you may have my firstborn, rights to my wife and my cow in gratitude. Oh, thank you, may I kiss your hands? It’s what his grandfather would have done. Why couldn’t he?

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Le Jet Lag Part Two v2

Le Jet Lag
Part Two

by Peter Lefcourt

Craziness continues for a publicist, journalist and producer attending the Cannes Film Festival. Part One. 4,208 words. Illustration by Mark Fearing.


Larry Moulds, studio Vice President for Publicity and Marketing, had been there and done that. As a unit publicist, he had accompanied movies and worked his tail off, coming home exhausted, sick, and, worst of all, empty-handed. The Cannes Film Festival was an all-or-nothing deal. No matter how you spun it, if you weren’t a winner, you were a loser.

His boss, studio head Vivian Rakmunis, had threatened to send him but she hadn’t actually sent him. Yet. But if his publicist Erika Marks didn’t produce some buzz soon, his ass was on the plane. He picked up his office phone and dialed the Hotel Carlton. Larry realized that he’d be waking up Erika in the middle of the night in France. Fuck her. It was her job to be on call 24/7.

It took seven rings before Erika picked up the phone.

Oui?”

“I love it when you talk dirty.”

“Larry? It’s…three-thirty in the morning.”

“Vivian isn’t seeing any ink on the picture. You don’t start producing, Vivian is going to send me over there. And you don’t want me there, do you? So what about jury tampering? You invite the Cannes jury president back for a shtupp?

“Larry, I’m not having sex with anyone on the jury. Can I go back to sleep?”

When he hung up, Erika was sitting up in bed, wide awake and furious. The digital bedside clock read 3:40 a.m. She had to be up at seven to flack the studio’s entry Crimea. If Larry arrived, she’d give him the keys to the car, kiss him on both cheeks, take a plane home, and sell real estate. Between the stress and the jet lag, she was not looking forward to the all-important interview with Paris Match for the film’s spoiled star, Hanna Lee Hedson.

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Sundance Redford v3

Sundance

by Bernard Weinraub

A Hollywood print journalist despairs because newspapers are dying and bloggers are thriving. 4,219 words. Illustration by Mark Fearing.


I met Billy McNulty in the Avis parking lot at the airport in Salt Lake City. He had walked past me on the plane from Los Angeles, a vaguely familiar face whom I had seen at one or two press screenings at Paramount or Fox. Outside, the predicted blizzard had tapered off and a sprinkle of snow was flying in the wind.  The street was covered with ice that was being sanded as I arrived.

It was crowded, actually mobbed and chaotic, at the airport, one day before the start of the Sundance Film Festival, and the flight from L.A. had disgorged hundreds of people carrying luggage, cameras and boxes. Ten minutes later, a flight from JFK arrived. The same scene. Everyone looked very young and bedraggled — certainly younger but just as bedraggled as I did. It was January 1996.

I was standing in line when, just outside, there was a commotion. At the door of a minivan with the sign "SUNDANCE – PRESS" posted, a crowd had gathered. A burly fellow was pushing a smaller guy out of the bus onto the street and screaming, "Get the fuck away. Asshole. Prick."

The victim was McNulty, who fell to the ground. The bus door closed. Someone came over and helped McNulty get up. The crowd dispersed. Just another mini-drama among quasi-talented filmmakers at Salt Lake City airport.

The grim woman behind the Avis counter gave me the keys to a Ford Explorer — you need a four-wheel drive for the icy roads — and a printed card with directions how to reach Park City. Before I could say a word, she shouted, “Next.” It was freezing when I left the terminal. Even bundled up in a down jacket, woolen hat and gloves, I was shivering. Without snow boots, which I had stupidly packed in my luggage, my toes turned icy. I scurried to the parking lot, my laptop over my shoulder, rolling my big valise filled with sweaters, woolen socks, thermal underwear and thick ski pants. As I waited at the light to cross the street, Bill McNulty stood next to me.

"Hey," he said.

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Le Jet Lag Part One

Le Jet Lag
Part One

by Peter Lefcourt

A journalist, publicist and producer try their best to withstand the Cannes Film Festival’s worst. Part Two. 4,883 words. Illustration by Mark Fearing.


Who do you have to fuck to make sure you don’t win a Palme d’Or at Cannes? Can a studio publicist with a tit job and a smattering of French, along with her boss, a VP involuntarily channeling Golda Meir, manage to sabotage the chances of their own film? Is it possible for a former Academy Award winning producer, fallen on hard times, to find financing for the middle third of a movie after he’s already shot the beginning and end with money provided by a consortium of Canadian periodontists? Will a sympathy slowdown of taxi drivers, chambermaids and Perrier suppliers, in support of local sex workers striking for improved dental benefits, bring Cannes to its knees? All these questions Jack Kemper, bottom-feeding entertainment journalist, would answer in time.

But at the moment, wedged in an economy seat in an Air France jet, coming into the Nice/Cote d’Azur airport after a bumpy flight from Paris, his thoughts were concentrated on who would get the lead obit in the trades if the plane went down.

For Jack’s first trip to Cannes, he’d been a stringer for the International Herald Tribune which put him up in the Carlton. And all he had to do was file 500 words a day — which he phoned in, literally. This time his press credentials were from Moviefan.com, a startup operated by a couple of film geeks in Van Nuys. And he would be staying on the wrong side of the Voie Rapide on his own nickel in a 95-Euro a night room a 20-minute walk to the Croisette and full, no doubt, of middle-market hookers and distribution people from central Asia. What the fuck was he doing here anyway? The glamour of Cannes was long gone. It had degenerated into a bazaar, as tight-fisted and venal as a camel market in Beirut. The place was full of accountants and lawyers doing deals. The screenings, the stars, the red carpet had become the sideshow. The real action was the film market. It was all about back-end financing and capitalizing your production investment with a distribution deal. For every hundred people in town, 99 of them were looking for the one guy with the checkbook.

Kemper deplaned and headed for baggage claim where an American film publicist was speaking bad French on her phone. Kemper took a closer look at her. She had that demented, already exhausted, jet-lagged look just 20 minutes after arriving. But Kemper liked a bit of mileage on women. Ten years ago, all you had to do to get laid during Cannes was stand in one place long enough. These days, if you had a few hours free, you slept or read your email. Or, if worse came to worst, you saw a movie.

Kemper waited for her to click off and, with his best smile, said, “First time in Cannes?”

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